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Report: Trump White House "Winging It" Ahead of Mueller Report; Senators Working on Bipartisan Deal to Denounce Saudis; N.C. GOP Open to New Election Amid Fraud Claims; Wisconsin GOP Defiantly Strips Power from Incoming Democrats; Train Carrying Bush Casket on Journey to Final Resting Place. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired December 6, 2018 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Elaina, nice to see you.

Let's start with a simple question: Why would the White House want to wing this?

ELAINA PLOTT, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: First of all, it's not entirely surprising to hear Trump White House and winging it in the same sentence. It's in many ways why Trump is president today. He kind of ran a campaign based on spontaneity and whim-driven antics, if you will. But because we're past midterms now, they're not so much in the White House needing to talk about the political calculations related to the Mueller report anymore. These are legal challenges. And what I'm told by people inside and outside of the White House who are directly familiar with the matter is that aides have come to the conclusion that, why waste time sitting down and crafting a strategy for whatever the best-and-worst-case scenario might be when Donald Trump has his phone and will likely ignore whatever plan they put in place anyway.

BALDWIN: But also it sounds like in reading your reporting that these aides and folks in the White House may not even know the truth, right?

PLOTT: Absolutely.

BALDWIN: You cited former Clinton's press secretary and a Bush comms person, the biggest difference in those administrations and this one is honesty.

PLOTT: You're right. I spoke to Joe Lockhart who was press secretary for Bill Clinton. It's really hard to find an analog for something like the report. But we did have Ken Starr's report about President Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinski. Joe Lockhart told me it never occurred to members of Clinton's inner circle that they weren't getting the full story from the president privately about what had happened. When I spoke to somebody in the Bush communications shop, they said the same thing, it would never occur to them they might not know the worst-case scenario of what's coming. It's quite difficult to plan, of course, if the commander-in-chief is not being honest with even those in his inner circle about, OK, guys, here is the worst thing to expect, let's prepare accordingly.

BALDWIN: Yes. You talked to Rudy Giuliani, the president's attorney. He revealed the president has devoted a lot of his energy to following this whole Paul Manafort case, rather than preparing for the full Mueller report. I'm curious, Elaina, if you know between Manafort and Flynn and Cohen, which case has shaken Trump the most behind the scenes?

PLOTT: I'm told by sources it's exactly in line with what Giuliani told me on the record. The Manafort case has stirred Trump, because he was placed in solitary confinement. Trump has gone on and on about how that is antithetical to notions and ideals of democracy. Right now, all we know about Manafort's crimes other than lying are things like tax evasion and not filing for foreign lobbying. For Trump, he's wondering what if something comes out that I see as minimalistic in terms of any crimes I may or may not have committed, is that something that people around me could face with as well.

BALDWIN: One more nugget you got from Giuliani. Talking about the written answers Trump provided to Mueller, Giuliana told you, "Answering the questions was a nightmare. It took him about three weeks to do what would normally take two days."

Elaina Plott, thank you very much.

PLOTT: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Appreciate you.

Coming up next, key Senators from both parties huddling today trying to reach a deal to formally rebuke the White House's handling of the killing of journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. One Republican Senator calling the administration's response un-American.


[13:37:38] BALDWIN: A bipartisan group of top Senators are working right this very moment on deal to formally condemn the Saudi crown prince and target Saudi Arabia for the killing of "Washington Post" journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. They're considering a bill that could include halting arms sales to the kingdom as well as reducing the U.S.'s role in the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and Bob Corker are calling out the White House today, saying it is "un-American" not to denounce the crown prince for his role in Khashoggi's murder.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We tolerate bad behavior, that's part of politics at times, but this is an ally. If you get in the orbit of the United States, if you want to buy our weapons and integrate your economy into ours, there's a certain price to be paid. Don't chop somebody up in a consulate. That's not too much to ask. How bizarre is this? How crazy is this guy to think he could lure somebody to a consulate in Turkey, who basically is a foe of Saudi Arabia, kill him, and nobody would say anything about it?

SEN. BOB CORKER, (R), TENNESSEE: There's been no balance between American interests and American values. To use this as a reason that we're not going to say anything about this, it's just -- it's un- American. That's not what we do as America. You know, when we provided aid to other countries, we do so because we want to see good things happen in those countries. We espouse American values all around the world. To say that they're going to buy some arms from us, it's OK to kill a journalist, sends exactly the wrong message about who we are as a country.


BALDWIN: This bipartisan bill could come to vote as early as Monday. At least one Senator, Democrat Dick Durbin, is renewing his call for the expulsion of Saudi's ambassador to the U.S.

Karen Attiah is with me. She's the global opinions editor for the "Washington Post," who recruited Jamal Khashoggi to work for the paper.

Karen, it's an honor to have you back on.

First, your gut reaction to these Senators on both the left and the right, coming up with this rebuke. Do you believe it's substantive?

[14:39:45] KAREN ATTIAH, GLOBAL OPINIONS EDITOR, WASHINGTON POST: I mean, you know, it's a good thing to have this on record, it's a good thing, you know, for the White House and for Saudi Arabia to know that a bipartisan group of lawmakers has officially said we believe this came from the highest levels of the Saudi government, that Mohammad bin Salman is personally to blame. It is good that they've listed what amounts to horrendous acts from the murder of Jamal to Yemen, to kidnapping prime ministers. All that is good. My first reaction is, great, we're saying these things, what are we going to do about it? We've listed the actions that Mohammad bin Salman is responsible for so what will be the consequences. So I'm hoping that we will not just talk the talk but walk the walk when it comes to resetting our relationship with Saudi Arabia and with Mohammad bin Salman.

BALDWIN: You mentioned consequences, which brings me to my next question. You and I have spoken about Trump siding with the Saudis. We know the tact that he has chosen to take. What has really escalated this was Secretary Mattis and Secretary Pompeo totally refuting what these Senators have said about MbS' role in Khashoggi's murder. We heard from Democratic Senator Chris Murphy saying Pompeo and Mattis were misleading us. If Pompeo and Mattis did mislead, what is the consequence for them?

ATTIAH: I mean, one this evening that -- thing that is so striking to me is we seem to forget that Mike Pompeo was director of the CIA just last year. It's stunning to have a former CIA director now seemingly wanting to throw the work of his former agency under the bus. You know, it just speaks to -- it calls into question the judgment when they're making assessments on who America should be in bed with basically. And so if we have so much evidence that's pointing to the violent tendencies, the recklessness of Mohammad bin Salman, it absolutely undermines the credibility of Mike Pompeo and Secretary Mattis and only sets them up for first confrontations with our lawmakers.

BALDWIN: As far as consequences are concerned, would you -- what would justice look like, if they are misleading?

ATTIAH: Right. I man, from the very start, right here, right now today, the fact that a former -- or the Saudi ambassador flew to Washington, business as usual, likely with assurances from our government that he would not be persona non-grata in the United States. He played a role in misleading the public, misleading all of us and luring Jamal to the consulate. Sanctions are a start, not an end. But curtailing our support for the war in Yemen and calling for the freedom of activists and reformers that are still in jail unjustly, women activists being tortured, all of these things are necessary, must be done, I think.

BALDWIN: We spoke last week but we haven't spoken since the G-20 in Argentina. And since Mohammad bin Salman showed up on the world stage. I just want to remind everyone the scene that played out had he first saw Vladimir Putin, the high-five, the smiles. When you saw this, Karen, what did you make of it?

ATTIAH: I mean, I think I tweeted, you know, again for me sometimes I try to laugh to keep from crying. It just sends a message of, look, bros before murdered journos. The idea that that was the only image of warmth that came from Mohammad bin Salman, it puts him squarely in the club of global thugs, to be honest. At the end of the day, it's chilling. It's chilling. These are regimes that get away with trying to silence journalists with brutality. It's a chilling message that all of a sudden they're happy to be in the club with one another. I can't major that Jamal would have ever thought -- he wrote last year that Mohammad bin Salman actually in fact is acting like Putin. He compared him to Putin at the same time last year. So to see this play out is chilling for me on so many levels.

BALDWIN: Karen Attiah, with the "Washington Post," thank you so much, as always, for coming on. I appreciate it.

Two huge political stories developing right now. The first, Republicans in North Carolina say they would support a do-over election if allegations of fraud are proven true. That's a huge deal. Number one.

[14:45:00] Number two, Republicans in Wisconsin lost, but they just moved to strip power from incoming Democrats. And the backlash is fierce. That's next.


BALDWIN: New this afternoon, the head of the North Carolina Republican Party tells CNN that he supports holding a new election if allegations of election fraud prove to be true.

CNN's Drew Griffin has been following very closely the ninth congressional district race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready. The Republican leads by 905 votes. But someone who has worked for his campaign is now being investigated for whether he altered absentee ballots.

Here is the state's Republican Party leader speaking today to Drew.


[14:50:09] DALLAS WOODHOUSE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NORTH CAROLINA REPUBLICAN PARTY: I was watching it and I immediately went in and threw up. I was very ill. I mean, this has shaken us to the core. And we are as horrified by it as anybody. And, you know, the North Carolina Republican Party never has had a part in these operations, didn't fund them, didn't coordinate them, didn't operate them, didn't know about them, would never have condoned them.

Clearly, if what you reported is verified by the State Board of Elections, there has to be a new election. And if the allegations as presented by the board of elections rise to a level of turning the outcome of this race or having substantial likelihood, there has to be a new election.


BALDWIN: Big, big interview there with Drew.

Chris Cillizza is with me, out CNN politics reporter and editor-at- large.

When you listen to him, how would you characterize his reaction? Refreshing, perhaps?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Sure. Dallas Woodhouse is quite of a character. So if you know anything about him, his reaction is in keeping with who he really is. I think this is very difficult to go through because if you are looking at what's been overturned by drew griffin and others, it certainly suggests that not just in the general election in the North Carolina, there are some primary ballots, something's going on here. Dallas Woodhouse said there definitely should be a new election if it's found that the margin of error, that this could have changed the margin of victory. I'll note that is not a requirement by law in order to order a new election. If election fraud is found and proven, it doesn't need to be that there were 906 absentee ballots to overturn it. A new election can be called solely because. Existence of election fraud. That's outside of one ballot.

BALDWIN: So it sounds like maybe it's not as sure of a done deal than -- you hear what I'm saying? It sounds like there's caveats.

CILLIZZA: There are. I just think we should put a little nuance there that Dallas Woodhouse is, broadly speaking, saying if this is all true, we need a new election. But remember, it doesn't have to be that what is found would -- this is not like a recount where it's, well, they're ahead about 121 so if the other guy doesn't get 122, you lose. That's not how it works. I will say this, in point of fact in reality if there's found that there's what looks like there's in terms of election fraud down there, Dallas Woodhouse and anyone else I don't think in the Republican Party down there's going to stand in the way of trying to redo this in a way in a gets us as close to the will of the people in that district as possible.

BALDWIN: Wisconsin, I want to ask you about what's going on there. Democrats are ticked off because of what the Republican power grab, the governor there, Scott Walker, Republican, lame-duck, expected to sign these measures effectively preventing his successor from delivering on election promises. How would you describe that?

CILLIZZA: Undemocratic.


BALDWIN: Is it cheating?

CILLIZZA: I don't mean Democratic Party. I mean democratic like democracy. Look, what the legislature, which is Republican controlled and will remain Republican controlled, they held on to the legislature, what they're doing is essentially saying, well, the powers that we gave to the Republican government and Republican state attorney general, they were good for them. But now that it's a Democratic governor and Democratic attorney general coming in, we're going to curtail those powers.

BALDWIN: Rewrite the rules.

CILLIZZA: Because we are in this moment we're in, Brooke, partisan- wise, people say if you're a Republican, oh, good. If you're a Democrat, you're outraged. Everybody should be outraged. We saw it in North Carolina when Republicans lost the governorship and tried to do similar things, this will not be an isolated incident and I fear it will not be isolated to one party. But if you are doing things that directly -- this is the North Carolina thing again. The goal of elections and democracy is to represent the will of the people as closely as we can. That's not what's happening in the Wisconsin legislature. I don't see, how can you see it in any other way.

BALDWIN: Sure, sure. Undemocratic. I hear you loud and clear.

Chris Cillizza, thank you very much --

[14:55:05] CILLIZZA: Thank you.

BALDWIN: -- on both North Carolina and Wisconsin.

Breaking news here on CNN. We just learned who is currently seen as the top candidate to replace Jeff Sessions as the full-fledged attorney general. That candidate has a direct link to former President George H.W. Bush.

Plus, stocks are falling. The Dow at one point today down more than 700 points. There's the big board for you now. What's behind the fall?

We'll be right back.








BALDWIN: We just saw President Bush 41's casket roll by through that Plexiglas. Look at all these people looking on and paying their respects.

Ed Lavandera is there somewhere in these crowds.

Ed, I hear it's not a pretty day in Texas. It's been raining, but the fact that so many people are showing up to show their respect for a man who gave so much to this country, tell me more.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Brooke. Thousands of people have lined up along the streets here, along these train tracks. One of the things that has really kind of stuck out to me is the number of military veterans, young and old, Vietnam veterans, also perhaps even a little older than that. Also veterans of the more recent war. So very much struck by that kind of feeling and the number of veterans who have shown up here. Of course, President George H.W. Bush, a vaulted member, naval officer and heroic World War II participant. I was really kind of struck by that. Many people here, just as the train just passed by already starting to clear out from the grounds here. You look and see the number of people who turned out in this small town, a population of just over a thousand. One of the law enforcement officials told us they had more than 3,000 people here in town this afternoon. You get really a sense of just this one brief stop along this journey to George H.W. Bush's final resting place just a couple of hours away from where we are here this afternoon -- Brooke?

[14:59:53] BALDWIN: Let me stay with you for a minute, Ed, as we stay on these pictures and you see this beautiful brightly colored train traversing Texas from, as you pointed out, Houston to Texas A&M and College Station, Texas. The world watched the funeral in the National Cathedral and all the presidents --